The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

They Will Never Get It

The Ring on (bl)undercards

Rule one before reading this piece: recognize that this PPV is being put on by Golden Boy, the owner of The Ring; as such, this article represents in effect a message- perhaps a threat- directly from the promoter. This is not journalism. That said:

As the article half-notes, the idea that the undercard can’t draw is a known fallacy in some circumstances, a story that (mostly boxing) promoters tell themselves because it’s easier to stick with familiar methods than to try something new. For a specific example of an undercard working in a related sport, try UFC 92- a show with a solid but unspectacular Rashad Evans vs. Forrest Griffin main event that did over 1 million buys on the strength of an undercard which featured Wanderlei Silva vs. Rampage Jackson (second on the PPV) and Frank Mir vs. Big Nog (semi-main). For an additional example try UFC 101, a show with two guys who at the time were minor draws (BJ Penn, Andy Silva) and one real star in Griffin which ended up doing 850,000 (and no, it’s not just Forrest- his next fight with Tito Ortiz did less than half as many buys with him on top) This is one half of the argument for loaded undercards- the idea that depth on a card can be as much of a draw as overall star power at the top within certain constraints. Whether or not you buy that argument in general is one thing, whether you buy it as applied to boxing is another, but one thing should be very clear: no one card is going to settle the discussion to any reasonable degree, especially this one. Let’s look at this thing:

The main event is JM Marquez vs. Juan Diaz. It was a very good fight the first time, but it also had a clear and definitive result and both guys have looked badly faded in losses since then. Both are likely 1-2 fights away from retirement. This is a very weak PPV headliner, so already we’ve moved from seeing if we can enhance a good main event with a strong undercard to seeing if we can salvage a weak one. Second from the top is Daniel Jacobs vs. Dmitry Pirog. I am at this point a slightly more than casual boxing fan; I have never, ever heard of Dmitry Pirog. Perhaps that’s a failing of my knowledge, perhaps he’s a wonderful fighter, but the point is- people like me are the swing buyers you’re looking to attract with this undercard and for all I know this is Jacobs squashing another jobber. It’s not like Pirog has been featured or promoted anywhere which would convey to the ignorant who he is, exactly. I like Jacobs, think he’s a very fine prospect, but this is not an adds-buys fight. Third from the top is Rocky Juarez vs. Jorge Linares, which is an interesting fight of two guys who basically mean nothing right now. Juarez is the perpetual underachiever, while Linares is a very high level former prospect looking to come back from a brutal first round KO loss. It’s a fun fight, but it’s also a BAD opener in terms of promotional value. Minor buys. Last if not least is Joel Casamayor vs. Robert Guerrero. It’s actually a very good semi-main in some ways insofar as Casamayor is a real name and Guerrero has some recognition and a good deal of talent and it could be a competitive (if ugly) fight, but it’s hardly a massive, massive must-see. Minor buys, which may as well be the tagline for this show as it’s probably going to be the result.

In essence you have what looks at first blush like a weak main event, a solid edition of BAD, and a bonus jobber squash. Given how desperate I am for good boxing to me that’s a buy; but it’s hardly a massive, massive blow-away show, and if this card goes down it’s not going to prove that a solid undercard can’t draw. Framing it as buy-this-or-else is setting up the whole concept to fail since this lineup is easily weak enough to not pass the smell test with a substantial portion of the intended audience; that Schaefer is using this framing tells me that he doesn’t really want this concept to succeed, he wants an “example” to point to to argue that it can’t. Worse still this is a card at cross-purposes with itself, confusing badly the two very different kinds of loaded undercard in a way which serves neither purpose for which a loaded undercard is intended and thus isn’t really a fair test of either.

No one at Golden Boy seems to have more than a vague inkling of the other reason why you load undercards: to make stars. The biggest problem with boxing these days is that because fighters won’t take fights, won’t show up on undercards of bigger names and fight so rarely (among other reasons) it has become very, very difficult to ever make new stars, to grow them organically from the undercard to the main event. Mosley vs. Mayweather had Saul Alvarez on the undercard and that was a great idea. So why isn’t he fighting here, the big new Mexican prospect for Golden Boy on the undercard of two of the bigger current Mexican and Mexican-American stars? Where the hell has he been, anyway? And the answer is fighting against no one in Mexico for fast money and scheduled to face the mighty TBA in Los Angeles in September so far as I can tell, off of US TV in both cases. By the next time he gets onto US television he’ll be utterly forgotten by anyone who saw his fun fight on the Mayweather undercard and isn’t already a hardcore. Daniel Jacobs is here and that at least the start of a good idea, but Schaefer is talking as though he expects Jacobs to add buys rather than develop as a star, which shows a massive miscalculation about where Jacobs is in his development as a TV property. It’s a confusion of the two completely different kinds of loaded undercards. Jorge Linares couldn’t get on anyone’s undercard to help build him up when he was viewed much more favorably than he is now, and so with no American TV exposure to let anyone here know who he is or why they should care he’s being thrown in there- one fight removed from his first KO loss and reportedly looking bad of late- with a guy whose major asset is his power, again in a fight which is expected to add buys rather than develop a good young talent. For years the knock on Golden Boy has been that they’re wonderfully adept at maximizing return for big fighters and poaching stars, but they can’t develop any fighters of their own from scratch. The senselessness of this card shows you how true that charge is, and why.

Bottom line: there are two ways to load an undercard. One is to put several great competitive fights together from guys who are stars but not superstars, and hope that together they can add up to a superstar-level draw. This is proven to work in MMA, and I see no reason it shouldn’t in boxing. The other is to load up fights involving prospects and young contenders on the undercard of a true superstar, exposing those fighters to the widest possible audience so that they can have a chance of catching on and becoming superstars themselves. The second of these is the more important over the long haul, but it’s not even a reasonable possibility below a mediocre main event like Marquez/Diaz unless you want to do something specialized like showcase a Mexican like Saul Alvarez below two Mexican headliners to try to rub their audience off on him. The first of these is getting only the most marginal and weak of trials on this card, since the card itself is basically a half-assed hodgepodge of fights that should be used for the star-building purpose (Jacobs/Pirog), fights which appear to be wildly premature risks for prospects who don’t have the stature to be draws yet (Linares/Juarez), and fights which actually may serve as cumulative undercard draws (Casamayor/Guerrero).

What’s sad about this is that I understand why Richard Schaefer, Dan Rafael, Eric Raskin and others regard the putting together of this card as a Herculean achievement. It is hard as hell to be a boxing promoter sometimes: star fighters demand huge chunks of the budget; managers, other promoters, trainers, “advisers”, TV executives, fighters’ families, girlfriends (boyfriends?), assorted hangers-on and others all demand a say in the process and control; fighters have become so coddled that fighting twice a year is considered an active schedule; no one ever wants to fight outside their local area or comfort zone; everyone is incredibly unrealistic about their standing in the sport; star fighters disappear with “personal issues”; entire weight classes seize up as fighters wait to see if they can land a giant payday as a B-side to a true superstar and on and on and on. Putting together a single fight of any meaning is incredibly hard today, and putting together a card of meaning is exponentially harder as you try to get probably 50 or more people to all sign off on these four fights, sync up the fighters’ training schedules, bargain endlessly about revenue splits, negotiate options and future incentives, etc. I have sympathy for Richard Schaefer and Golden Boy on this- it’s epic cat-herding.

But when I read Oscar De La Hoya saying “Everybody knows these fights are exciting. Everybody knows these fights can go either way” about a card featuring Dmitry Pirog in a money slot, all I can think is that these guys are completely out of touch with the knowledge level of their fanbase. When I read Oscar saying “We didn’t think about or care about how much money we spent. We just wanted to make sure that we have great fights, that the fans are happy, because it’s good for boxing” and that’s immediately followed by Oscar’s boss Schaefer saying “This is a major financial commitment on our part, and we do hope that the fight fans, those who always complain out there — ‘Well, there wasn’t really a good card or this wasn’t good or that wasn’t good’ — are going to come out and really support that card. Because at the end of the day, who likes to lose a few million dollars? Nobody I think these guys are two-faced, can’t get their story straight AND are going out of their way to insult the very fans they claim to be trying to appeal to. When I read Schaefer saying if fight fans are going to be like, ‘Oh, I’m not really going to buy it and so on,’ then it becomes a huge loss for us. Then I really don’t want to hear any more, ‘Well, you know what? This is not good or that is not good” about a card which honestly isn’t as good on paper as UFC on Versus 2: Matyushenko vs. Jones despite coasting $50 more, I lose all my sympathy. These people are clowns who think fans owe them something, and that’s boxing’s problem in the proverbial nutshell: the arrogance of those in power to believe that everything they have is owed to them by right, that none of it has to be worked for, that things can just go on forever the way they always have. These people are living in the shadow of the volcano, chattering away about what a lovely day it is.

Here’s a reality check for Schaefer and the rest: cards like this cannot be the once-a-year exceptions in a healthy sport. MMA raised the bar: UFC shows are better than this in terms of strong talent in competitive fights month after month after month, Strikeforce shows are close, even useless tertiary dead promotions like Affliction and Elite XC were in the neighborhood. That is now the state of the art in the PPV fighting market and in large parts of the free TV market, and while the boxing and MMA fanbases are for the moment separate enough that boxing can hide from this it’s not going to be that way forever. Right now boxing is surviving on a vast pool of ingrained cultural appreciation for the sport, on ethnic appeals and on the memories of people who grew up with Leonard, Duran, Hagler, Hearns and their ilk as the leaders of the sport. The next generation of fans- people like me and those younger- are growing up with UFC, with Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez and Rampage Jackson, and with the dominant boxing story in the press being the inability of anyone to agree on even the most lucrative of fights. I’m old enough to remember George Foreman as the heavyweight champion of the world, which was the fight which made me a boxing fan at age 12 or 13; I have no clue what would make a 12 year old a boxing fan today.

Sooner or later either fighter pay and demands are going to have to come down or profit margins are going to have to be squeezed, because right now boxing can’t put together big fights, can’t put together big cards, can’t build stars consistently, and looks ever more like a clown sport to anyone who actually does watch MMA. It doesn’t have to be this way; there is no reason on earth why MMA and boxing shouldn’t be able to coexist, shouldn’t in fact be able to compete their way into mutual improvement. But so long as Richard Scheafer thinks his potential audience owes him something, so long as this card is what he thinks is a blow-away show, so long as he’s willing to write off a Jorge Linares without ever giving him a chance, boxing is going to keep shooting itself in the foot. Schaefer thinks he’s being magnanimous, doing us all a favor by being so good as to put together this show; thinks that if this doesn’t draw he can go right back to doing things the way they’ve always been done, telling us it’s all our fault for not giving him our money when we had the chance. It’s that insufferable arrogance which will ruin this sport- that belief that fans can be abused endlessly, can be sold anything, that they’ll never have standards and will never find someplace else to go.

This month you get Antonio Margarito and Richard Schaefer’s stick up show, and you’d better like it. Or you get UFC for free showcasing a guy who could be the best fighter alive in 5 years. Do they think no one’s ever going to notice?

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July 29, 2010 - Posted by | Boxing, MMA

1 Comment »

  1. What are you guys planning on for Saturday night?

    Comment by ken | July 29, 2010 | Reply


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